Thursday, July 28, 2016

Undelivered letters reveal 17th century life

A treasure trunk full of letters is shedding light on 17th century life.
Thanks to The Literacy Site for sharing the story of a trunk full of letters from the 1600s that are now shedding light on what life was like then.

According to a news release from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, the letters had been stored by a postmaster and his wife in The Hague. At that time, the postage was paid by the recipient, rather than by the sender, as it is now. Many of the letters were refused by the recipients, but others couldn't be delivered because the recipient had either moved or was deceased. The couple hoped that eventually someone would come pick up the letters. That never happened for 2,600 missives.

Researchers from Leiden University, the University of Groningen, The University of Oxford, Yale University and MIT were the first to read and analyze the letters. They are not only taking note of the content of the correspondence, but also the way that the letters were folded and sealed.Dr. David van der Linden from the University of Groningen said: "People had a very personal way of folding letters, rather like their own signature. We call this 'letter locking': folding and sealing a letter so that nobody could secretly read it. This is a revolutionary new research field – and the letters in this collection form a golden opportunity to study and analyse these different styles of folding."

The sealed letters will not be opened. Thanks to x-ray computed tomography, an advanced scanning technique which was also used to study the Dead Sea Scrolls, the letters can be read without breaking the seals, leaving the material evidence of letter sealing untouched.

The letters will also shed light on the life and times of ordinary people from the past, particularly Huguenot families forced to flee their homes. Van der Linden said, "A lot of Huguenots fled religious persecution under Louis XIV, while others remained in France. Letters were their only way of staying in touch. The letters in this collection show the high emotional price that these families had to pay for separation."

(Photos from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands)

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Check out this mail-based TV show on CBS -- The Inspectors!

A far cry from the kids' cartoons that many of us used to watch, today's Saturday morning shows on CBS offer something the entire family can enjoy.

Under the slogan "CBS Dream Team...It's Epic!" last year's lineup included shows about a dog trainer who finds homes for shelter dogs, an Australian veterinarian, modern inventors and more.

But, my favorite show on Saturday morning is "The Inspectors." It is a 30-minute CBS drama -- but there's lots of humor in it, too -- about college student Preston Wainwright (played by Bret Green) and his mom, who is a U.S. Postal Inspector. Preston hangs out with his friends and also interns at the U.S. Postal Inspection Service forensic crime lab. Every week, they investigate fraud, scams and other crimes committed through the U.S. mail service. Often what's going on with the college kids is a side story that might not have anything to do with postal inspections; there are love interests, college student protests, friendly banter, etc.

The show also includes a variety of side characters, including the friendly neighborhood mail carrier, who sometimes has a major role in the plot.

From what I understand, one of the sponsors of "The Inspectors" is the U.S. Postal Service, and at the end of each episode, the real U.S. Chief Postal Inspector Guy Cottrell makes an appearance to drive home the point about how important it is to be aware of scams, fraud, etc.

I haven't seen an official announcement from CBS that "The Inspectors" has been renewed for a second season, but the website lists 22 episodes by name for the upcoming second season. So, maybe that's good news.

If you haven't seen any episodes of "The Inspectors" or if you missed one or two -- or if you'd just like to watch the shows again -- you can find some episodes on . There also are some at TVGuide's website.    

I like the show and try to watch it every week, but I hope there's one thing they work into the scripts in the next season...letter writing! Although the mail carrier delivers mail all the time, there's not much talk about writing and sending letters. In fact, in one episode, Preston's friend makes a reference to not remembering what his handwriting looks like or something like that. I'm all for encouraging people to be aware of and to report mail fraud, but I also think the show is the perfect place to support letter writing, like 365 Letters does!

Monday, July 25, 2016

For the love of snail mail

I came across a post on Odyssey today by Gabrielle LaFrank, a journalism major at San Jose State University. She writes about why "snail mail" is important, even in today's technologically advanced society.

One of the most interesting things she has to say is:
"My generation is likely the last to remember getting letters in the mail, but I hope that we can take it upon ourselves to continue the tradition. It's personal and it's fun. It's a way to get away from the screens and get to know the people you meet. 
Just like the difference between holding a book and skimming words on an iPad, reading a handwritten letter is a lot more special than scrolling through status updates that probably weren't meant for you anyways."

I think my generation often thinks that as well, and we're a bit older than Gabrielle (I was a journalism major at Texas Tech University quite a few years ago). So, for all of us letter writers out there, maybe there is hope. If we all keep encouraging the next generation to pick up pen and paper and write a "real" letter, maybe the tradition will live on.

Thanks, Gabrielle, for the positive words on letter writing!

Be sure to go read her entire post: Why Snail Mail and Postcards Need to Make a Comeback
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